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The Rebbes Secret Weapon

Aryeh Ehrlich

An upscale Israeli town has become home for the Clevelander Rebbe, who eschews honor and recognition and wants nothing more than to bring his Jewish brothers and sisters closer to the light of the Torah. When the Rebbe’s holy Seudah Shlishis proved stronger than a terrorist’s knife, he revealed how opening hearts is the best protection of all

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

It seems an improbable name for a chassidus. And to add to the riddle, it’s based in Raanana — an upscale city in the heart of Israel’s Sharon Plain — an enclave of professionals and high-tech executives. Most of its inhabitants aren’t religious, and the minority who are don’t appear to be typical candidates to join in the weekly tish. Yet it’s there in Raanana that the Clevelander Rebbe reigns. To one familiar with the sacred path chosen by Rav Mordechai of Nadvorna (Reb Mordche’le) and his many descendants, it’s no riddle at all. It wasn’t just back in the heim that the tzaddikim of this dynasty fanned out, across Hungary, Romania, and Galicia; it was also in America. They left Williamsburg and the Lower East Side behind, choosing places like Newark, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia. The Clevelander Rebbe, Rav Yitzchak Eizik Rosenbaum, is a son of Rav Yissachar Ber of Strozhnitz. His rebbetzin is the daughter of Rav Meir Isaacson of Philadelphia, a brilliant talmid chacham and author of Teshuvos Mevaser Tov. Both are grandchildren of Rav Issamar of Nadvorna and descendants of Reb Mordche’le. This elderly couple is chassidic aristocracy, yet they’ve made it a point, from the very beginning, to transmit their holy mesorah quietly and humbly, reaching Jews one at a time. When the Rebbe was a young immigrant from Romania, he became close to the Klausenberger Rebbe, who had settled in Williamsburg after the war and built a yeshivah there; he then went on to learn in Torah Vodaath and received semichah from Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky and Rav Yonason Steiff. After their marriage in 1961, the new Rav and Rebbetzin settled in Long Beach, but a fire soon consumed the small beis medrash the Rebbe had established on Long Island. A delegation of Cleveland Jews heard that the illustrious young man was contemplating a move and hastened to invite him to their city, but the young Rebbe wasn’t sure he was ready to venture forth. He wanted to be in an established frum neighborhood with mosdos and shuls for a bit longer. His father, Rav Yissachar Ber, assured him that Cleveland was a “heimeshe city.” So they went. For 13 years, the Rebbe and his rebbetzin manned an outpost of Nadvorna chassidus in the cold Midwest. Through that decade, a most frenzied and tumultuous era for young secular Jews, the Rebbe provided answers, warmth, and direction to students and secular Jews, his rebbetzin providing nourishing meals and comfortable accommodations. They created a flourishing kehillah, and it seemed that Cleveland had its rebbe, and the Rebbe had Cleveland. But then in 1970, Rav Issamar of Nadvorna, shared zeide of both the Rebbe and Rebbetzin, left America and settled in Eretz Yisrael in the Yad Eliyahu neighborhood of Tel Aviv. Before his petirah in 1973, Rav Issamar encouraged his grandson to move to Eretz Yisrael as well. They were honored to follow the Zeide’s directive to move, difficult as it was to part from their chassidim in Cleveland. Until recently, the Rebbe would visit the kehillah in Cleveland each year, but he no longer has the energy to travel; still, his chassidim are in constant touch with him via phone and through personal visits. When the sons and daughters — and more recently, the grandchildren — of those families come learn in yeshivah or seminary in Eretz Yisrael, they adopt the Rebbe and Rebbetzin as surrogate grandparents.

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